The choppiness here may be recognizable, but that doesn’t mean it’s good story. A vision still on its way.



This year’s Flannery O’Connor winner offers a range of tales orbiting consistent pop-culture themes.

A sentiment from “A. Wonderland,” a modern retelling of the obvious, captures the spirit of Wells’s debut collection: “She knows he’s too old for Alice but feels sex with a much older man is a small price to pay for a good nonsense poem.” But Wells’s rejection of straightforward plot in favor of nonsense is ultimately hit and miss: the random feel of “Blue Skin” simulates the disconnectedness felt by brother and sister as they struggle to grow up motherless in a helter-skelter world; a man whose sole job is changing lightbulbs (“Godlight”) is intended to shed light, as it were, on life in an apocryphal hotel; “Sherman and the Swan” is a meandering tale of a boy born to the world as a marrow donor (too late) who comes to think the sister he failed may be reincarnated as the cygnet in his care; the most experimental piece is “Secession, XX,” with a side-by-side newspaper-column structure meant to simulate the physiology of Siamese twins (left side of page, girl; right side, boy) whose point of view is shared, to say the least. The experiment is conducted mainly to explore plain old pedestrian feelings, which is what any experimental fiction should ultimately be about. Unfortunately, Wells doesn’t always deliver on this mark. Too often, she relies on puns, double-entendres, and the general raucousness of modern product placement, which, even though it’s her subject, dates her and gives her work the cultural penetration of bell-bottom jeans. And even as one admires the ideas, one wishes they weren’t quite so cute—the reader longs for inspiration from the mind rather than the headlines.

The choppiness here may be recognizable, but that doesn’t mean it’s good story. A vision still on its way.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-8203-2431-0

Page Count: 193

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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